Southern Europe Traveller's Guide - James Joyce in Trieste




Walking around Svevo's and Joyce's


Trieste can still be explored through Svevo's locations. It is a city that has preserved its historical spaces, it is the city of Zeno, Emilio, Alfonso and Angiolina and the other characters of Trieste's literature. We can still imagine them in our company as we enter a café or theatre, wander through the streets and squares, venture into the Carso plateau or put out to sea.

The Caffé San Marco, the Teatro Verdi, the Molo Audace and the Biblioteca Civica still speak to us of those times. These are our own times, which still belong to Svevo, who tried through writing 'to search' at the borders of three civilisations, of three cultures, between East and West, between sea and rock.

'Sites' in this itinerary mark out literary-existential itineraries leaving from the Caffé San Marco, through the Piazza, theatres, sea-front, old town and the new town, reaching Sant'Andrea.

Trieste is a beautiful maritime town,  overlooking the Gulf of Trieste, which is an arm of the Adriatic Sea. It has the third largest port in the Mediterranean and a population of just over one quarter of a million people. 

The city has a rich history and preserves interesting Roman, Medieval and neo-classic monuments. In the 17th and 18th centuries it began developing into a truly cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse city under the direction of Karl VI and his daughter Mary Therese. 

The building of a deep water port in the 18th century meant that Trieste was the only sea port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This fact, together with its tax-free policy, led to an influx of entrepreneurs and merchants from all over the world, while Mary Therese's policy of religious tolerance allowed the different religious communities to practice openly and build their own places of worship. Following the collapse of the empire after the first world war, Trieste was united with the rest of Italy and became increasingly provincialised from then on. It became annexed by the 3rd Reich during the Second World War and eventually came under Italian rule in 1954.

The author of "Senilità" (As a Man Grows Older) and "La coscienza di Zeno" (Confessions of Zeno) had explored the insides of Trieste and understood it better than most people ever have, finding moments of happiness and pleasure in its streets and piazzas, its buildings and cafés. Following in his footsteps, a literary pilgrim finds a modest city, reticent to reveal itself. And yet Trieste, which for centuries was under Austro-Hungarian domination, is very alive in its soul and its culture. Its rich past makes it neither Italian, nor Central European, but unique.
In the days of author Italo Svevo, Trieste held an occult fascination, sour and malicious, which remained hidden in an indolent torpor and sullen grace. Even today, the city seems to live in a sort of "joyous Apocalpyse," (as the slow decay of the Vienna-based empire was once described) waiting for only God knows what. A perfunctory glance at the landscape doesn't render these emotions in their entirety. Trieste, says the manager of the Libreria Umberto Saba, "is an incomprehensible city. Even those who live here can't understand it."

Like an archeologist, the Triestine writer Svevo managed to scrape past the city's gloomy, mysetrious exterior and excavate fragments of joy, even if surrounded by emptiness and the inexistence of life. "I remember everything, I understand nothing," remarked Zeno, one of Svevo's most memorable characters. 
"S'imbatté in lei a mezzodì nel Corso," Svevo wrote, opening a description of a mid-day encounter on Corso Italia. The cafés along the wide street have a Central European look, much like cafés in Vienna, Prague, Budapest or Ljubljana.
"A café is a place where you can be by yourself and among people at the same time," said  philologist Claudio Magris. The same venues were described by Istrian writer  Tomizza as "public meeting places, not cold, yet not binding - the best custodians of your personal space."

These cafés in particular saw the faces of such sociable loners as Svevo, James Joyce, Scipio Slataper and Umberto Saba. 

Joyce and Svevo became friends in Trieste, where the latter was born in Dec. 19, 1861 and studied commerce after high school in Germany. In 1884, his Jewish-German father suffered a financial crisis and Italo Svevo (the pen name Ettore Schmitz chose to emphasize his Italo-Swabian origins in the Hapbsurg port city) supported himself by working in the Banca Union and penning articles for L'Indipendente. After a less successful novel, in 1898 he published his well-known work "As a Man Grows Older". His later novel, "Confessions of Zeno," came out in 1923, after he sent a copy to Joyce for review. Initially, it met with limited success.

At the Antico Caffè San Marco, still a haunt for artists and litterati, the atmosphere is suspended in time: Liberty style, with bars in black wood, small tables in marble and iron, red sofas backed up against the wall. There is a silver-plated, hand-levered cash register with buttons like keys on the typewriters of long ago. The clock, the chandelier and the coffee machine shine in their full splendor and reflect off the mirrors. A few newspapers sit in a rack and the gold-leafed stucco on the walls surrounds pictures of the carnival season.
"On the table I placed a box of sweets, wrapped in gaudy red paper and tied up with a blue ribbon," Svevo wrote. He was at home here, as was Joyce, who in the first years of the 20th century never missed a chance to work at the San Marco along with a glass of red wine. The owner, can show you some of those old sweets, Central European in flavor and simple. Traditional favorites include la putizza, with walnuts, raisins, rum and chocolate; and la presnitz, with walnuts, pine nuts, and orange peel.

Ettore Schmitz, had hired James Joyce as an English teacher because he had worked at the Berlitz language school and was then tutoring many wealthy Triestine families (and borrowing money from all of them). Schmitz owned a thriving paint business and felt he needed English to expand it. The school room was in the paint factory on the outskirts of Trieste, and the lessons were given three times a week.

Almost at once the whole Schmitz family, Ettore, his wife, Livia and Lettitia, became involved in the lessons and it changed their lives. "At the very first lesson, Joyce told us he was a writer." Sra Fonda-Savio said.

"And not long after that he brought along a story (The Dead) from Dubliners and showed it to my parents. My mother was so moved by it she went into our garden, nearby and gathered a bunch of roses for Joyce." Schmitz, who had quietly written two books under the pseudonym Italo Svevo and been ignored by Italian critics, now summoned the courage to show them to his teacher.

Joyce read them rapidly and told Schmitz he was a neglected writer, suggesting English and French critics to whom the books should be sent.

Svevo's (Schmitz's) work was almost immediately recognized internationally and Schmitz happily started to write again. As before his new book received no recognition from Italian critics and once more Joyce took it up as a cause, telling Schmitz this was his best work and writing two French critics and telling them that the only modern Italian author who interests me is Italo Svevo.

It occurred to me later that by helping Schmitz sell his books, Joyce made an eternally grateful friend from whom he could borrow money at will, but I have no proof of that.

"When Joyce was able to direct attention to my father's last book. Senilita which became As a Man Grows Older, in the English translation, Father said his 
English teacher had made the miracle of Lazarus for him," Sra Fonda-Savio told me. "Joyce sang in our house," the Signora said, "old Italian songs. Italian is the best 
language for music, he told us."

Joyce maintained his friendship with the family until Schmitz was killed in a car accident in 1928. Sra Fonda-Savio has the correspondence wrapped in blue tissue paper in huge manila folders which she let me look through.

As his eyesight began to fail from increasing bouts of irritus, Joyce's handwriting became smaller and more difficult to read. He always wrote to the Schmitz in the 
Triestine dialect. According to Sra Fonda-Savio, the Joyces also spoke this dialect at home wherever they lived. But when his eyesight got so bad he couldn't write, Joyce had his daughter, Lucia, write for him, and these letters are in English.

Lucia, who developed schizophrenia and died in an English nursing home, had a remarkable drawing talent. She illustrated a number of books, one of which was a gift to the Schmitz. The book, with other personal belongings, was destroyed when their home was bombed and burned during the war.

The two families became more to each other than students and teacher. Sra Fonda-Savio said she visited the Joyces in Trieste and, during the war, in Zurich, sometimes for lessons and sometimes just socially. She remembers Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife, as beautiful despite bad teeth (photos always show her with her mouth shut). 

"She never understood his work, either," Fonda-Savio said with some distaste.

During one visit the Signora found Nora Barnacle in a rage. Joyce had ordered eight new chairs without discussing finances. A man came to the door, delivered them and then Nora asked: " 'How are we to pay for these?'" Sra Fonda-Savio said that Joyce didn't reply, but sat in one, leaned an arm on two others and put his feet up on a fourth.

Nora was as responsible for their constant financial plight as Joyce, according to Sra Fonda-Savio. She wasn't a good manager. As he began to put together Ulysses in his mind, Joyce often consulted Schmitz for the character of Leopold Bloom.

"'If I ask you this and that, he would say to my father, what would you answer?' Schmitz realized he was supplying material for a novel, but found it irritating, all 
the same. 'Tell me some secrets about Irishmen,' he once asked Stanislaus Joyce. 'You know your brother has been asking me so many questions about Jews that I want to get even with him.'"

If bringing Schmitz's work recognition was a Lazarus miracle, what Joyce created for Livia Venezia Schmitz was a kind of immortality. Her hair became the symbol for the river Liffey and her name, Livia, became the Anna Livia Plurabelle of Finnegans Wake.

In a letter to Schmitz on February, 1924, Joyce explains. "Ask her, however, not to take up arms, either of steel or fire, since the person involved in the Pyrrha of Ireland (or rather of Dublin) whose hair is the river beside which (her name is Anna Liffey) the seventh city of Christianity springs up . . ."

In a letter to an Italian journalist Joyce wrote, "They say I have immortalized Svevo, but I've also immortalized the tresses of Signora Svevo. These are long and 
reddish-blond. My sister who used to see them let down told me about them. There is a river near Dublin which passes dye-houses and its waters are reddish, so I've enjoyed comparing these two things in the book I'm writing. A lady in it will have the tresses which are really Signora Svevo's."

Sra Schmitz changed her name legally to Svevo after her husband was killed by a car and in 1930, Joyce wrote her saying, "Dear Signora, I have at least finished finishing my book. For three lustra I have been combing and recombing the locks of Anna Livia. It is now time that she tread the boards. I hope that Bernice will intercede for her little sister so that she may find in this vast world, thanks to the gods . . . "

During the war, Joyce found sanctuary in Zurich and Letitia Fonda-Savio spent some time there taking more English lessons. Frequently he used literature as a lesson, but occasionally they discussed Swiss politics and always ended up quarreling because Joyce hated the English and she was sympathetic to Italy.

S.ra Fonda-Savio  spoke excellent English without a trace of an Irish accent, read Ulysses in English and when asked to sum up her important teacher she replied, "Joyce was finding a new language. Because he was a musician, when he spoke it was musical."


Since the publication of Richard Ellmann's James Joyce in 1959, Joyce has received remarkably little biographical attention. Scholars have chipped away at various aspects of Ellmann's impressive edifice but have failed to construct anything that might stand alongside it. The Years of Bloom is arguably the most important work of Joyce biography since Ellmann. Based on extensive scrutiny of previously unused Italian sources and informed by the author's intimate knowledge of the culture and dialect of Trieste, The Years of Bloom documents a fertile period in Joyce's life.










While living in Trieste, Joyce wrote most of the stories in Dubliners, turned Stephen Hero into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and began Ulysses. Echoes and influences of Trieste are rife throughout Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Though Trieste had become a sleepy backwater by the time Ellmann visited there in the 1950s, McCourt shows that the city was a teeming imperial port, intensely cosmopolitan and polyglot, during the approximately twelve years Joyce lived there in the waning years of the Habsburg Empire. It was there that Joyce experienced the various cultures of central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. He met many Jews, who collectively provided much of the material for the character of Leopold Bloom. He encountered continental socialism, Italian Irredentism, Futurism, and various other political and artistic forces whose subtle influences McCourt traces with literary grace and scholarly rigour. The Years of Bloom , a rare landmark in the crowded terrain of Joyce studies, will instantly take its place as a standard work.



The mysterious city played home to  Joyce and other novelists whose spirits live on 

James Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2nd, 1882 and died in Zurich on January 13th, 1941. He is one of this century's most important authors. His fame, together with that of Virginia Woolf, is linked with the English modernist, experimental novel. James Joyce's themes were centred upon a detailed reconstruction of everyday reality which also shared common ground with 'traditional' classical literature (his masterpiece, 'Ulysses', is an upside down epic; its protagonist, Leopold Bloom, 'sails' the 'sea' in Dublin in the early 1900's and performs banal and irrelevant 'feats').These themes include exile: from Ireland, his family and Irish Catholic tradition. This choice was the foundation for the author's two stays in Trieste, where he was a voluntary exile from 1904 to 1915 and from 1919 to 1920. Joyce finished writing Dubliners and A Portrait of theArtist as a Young Man inTrieste. He also wrote a short prose-poem called Giacomo Joyce, a play, Exiles, and began his masterpiece, Ulysses, of which he wrote some of the most significant chapters in this Italian city.


 Biographies dedicated to Joyce, such as the one by Ellmann, have considered the importance of the author's stay in Trieste, but have failed to place the appropriate stress on these periods. The'Laboratorio Joyce', directed by Professor Renzo S. Crivelli, has reconstructed all the relevant 'locations' of the Irish author's stays in Trieste; The results of this research are available in a simplified version on the net; following a proposal made by the 'Laboratorio Joyce' and thanks to the support of the CRT Foundation, the Culture Department of the Trieste Municipality has completed the topography of these stays by placing a series of 45 plaques on the buildings which witnessed the author's presence.


Tour of Joyce's Trieste:ask for timetable of guided tours at tourist offices.

Where he lived

A.a) via San Nicolò 30, 2nd floor
1° May 1905 - 24 February 1906 (2)
A.b) via San Nicolò 16, c/o Stanislaus Joyce (his brother), 3rd floor
March - November 1907 (4)
B) piazza Ponterosso 3, 3rd floor March 1905 (1)
C) via Santa Caterina 1, 1 st floor
1° December 1907 - early March 1909 (5)
D) via Armando Diaz 2, 3rd floor
mid-October 1919 - early July 1920 (9)
E) via Donato Bramante 4,2nd floor
September 1912 - 28 June 1915 (8)
F) via Alfredo Oriani 2, 3rd floor
late August 1910 - early September 1912 (7)
G) via Vincenzo Scussa 8, 1 st floor
6, March 1909 - 24August 1910 (6)
H) via Giovanni Boccaccio 1, 2nd floor
24 February - 30 July 1906 (3)
[Chronological order: (1) B, (2) A.a, (3) H, (4)
A.b, (5) C,(6) G, (7) F, (8) E, (9) D]



Places of Joycean interest

1. The Berlitz School
via San Nicolò 32, 1 st floor
2. The 'Central' (Haberleitner) Hotel
via San Nicolò 15
3. Nicolò Vidacovich's house
via Rossini 14
4. Caffè 'Nordstern/Stella Polare'
via Dante Alighieri 14
5. Ignaz Steiner's emporium
corso Italia 4 and 6
6. The 'F.H. Schimpff ' bookshop
piazza della Borsa 9
7. The 'Americano' cinema
piazza della Borsa 12
8. The Hall of the (old) Stock Exchange
piazza della Borsa 17
9. The 'Dreher' restaurant
piazza della Borsa
10. The Greek-Orthodox church of San Nicolò
riva III Novembre
11. The 'Giuseppe Verdi' Opera House
piazza Verdi
12. The 'Antica Bonavia' restaurant
via della Procureria 4 and 6
13. The 'Metro Cubo' brothel
via della Pescheria 7
14. The 'Fontana' baths
molo Fratelli Bandiera
15. The City library
piazza Hortis 4
16. Amalia Popper's house
via Don Minzoni 16
17. Tullio Silvestri's studio
via Tor San Lorenzo 4
18. The Basilica of San Giusto
19. James Joyce Steps
20. The 'Civica scuola popolare e cittadina'
via Veronese 1
21. The Veneziani villa and factory
via Italo Svevo 22/24
22. a) The Jewish cemetery
via della Pace 4
b) The Protestant cemetery
via dell'Istria 190
23. The Picciola pharmacy
via Oriani 2
24. The Pirona confectionery
largo Barriera Vecchia 12
25. Count Sordina's house
corso Saba 6
26. Il Piccolo and Il Piccolo della sera
piazza Goldoni 1
27. The Minerva Society
via Carducci 28, 2nd floor
28. The City Hospital
piazza dell'Ospitale
29. Francesco Riccardo Sinico's house
viale XX Settembre 39
30. Teatro Politeama 'Rossetti'
viale XX Settembre 45
31. The bust of James Joyce in the Public Gardens
via Giulia
32. The 'Civica scuola cittadina'
via Giotto (entrace in via Gatteri 3)
33. Annie Schleimer's house
via Cesare Battisti 10
34. The 'Revoltella' Business College
via Carducci 12
35. Palazzo Ralli
piazza Scorcola 1
36. The Southern Railway Station and garden
piazza Libertà




Trieste,  is on the uneasy border where northern Italy flares out to touch Yugoslavia, with Austria hanging just above it like a storm cloud. It was James Joyce's favorite city. 

More than Dublin, which Joyce immortalized in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, more than Zurich, where he is buried, more than Paris where he wrote Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake; Trieste claims James Joyce. 

"Where did Joyce live?" I idly asked a clerk in the tourist office, and suddenly she came to life.

"He lived all over, the clerk said, laughing. Joyce moved constantly, whenever the rent was due." She spoke as though he were a current city character and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number. "Ask this man about him."

Since the publication of Richard Ellmann's James Joyce in 1959, Joyce has received remarkably little biographical attention. The Years of Bloom, based on extensive scrutiny of previously unused sources and informed by the author's intimate knowledge of the culture and dialect of Trieste, is possibly the most important work of Joyce biography since Ellmann, re-creating this fertile period in Joyce's life with an extraordinary richness of detail and depth of understanding.
In Trieste, Joyce wrote most of the stories in Dubliners, turned Stephen Hero into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and began Ulysses. Echoes and influences of Trieste are rife throughout Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Though Trieste had become a sleepy backwater by the time Ellmann visited there in the 1950s, McCourt shows that in the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the city was a teeming imperial port, intensely cosmopolitan and polyglot. There Joyce experienced the various cultures of central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. He knew many Jews, who collectively provided much of the material for the character of Leopold Bloom. He encountered continental socialism, Italian irredentism, Futurism, and various other political and artistic movements whose subtle influences McCourt traces with literary grace and scholarly rigour. The Years of Bloom, a rare landmark in the crowded terrain of Joyce studies, will instantly take its place as a standard work. 




John McCourt's The Years Of Bloom: James Joyce In Trieste, 1904-1920 is a remarkable and original contribution to Joycean studies. McCourt was able to acquire information never before published about Joyce's activities in the years he resided in Trieste, and which influenced his career as one of the truly great writers in the English language. Superbly researched, accessibly written, thoroughly documented, and impressively presented, The Years Of Bloom is a major work of outstanding scholarship and a welcome, enduring, seminal contribution which will be part of every college and university reading list and reference collections on the life and writings of James Joyce. 

Richard Ellmann's massive biography of James Joyce (originally issued in 1959 and revised in 1982) has warned off new biographers for many years. McCourt (English, Univ. of Trieste) makes the case for a more detailed study of Joyce's life for nearly 16 formative years and, even more persuasively, for Trieste's seminal influence on Joyce's major works. All of the oeuvre except Finnegans Wake were written while Joyce lived in this cosmopolitan port, and McCourt argues that the life and language of Trieste and the friends and contacts Joyce made there were far more important than Ellmann had thought. McCourt has unearthed a few new sources and successfully debunks some others while painting a detailed picture of life in the then-Italian metropolis. While aimed at Joyce scholars with a detailed knowledge of Joyce's life and writing, the book gives an unusual overview of European political and cultural life in the early years of the century. For specialized collections. (Photographs and index not seen.)--Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\